Scientific articles are not the right place for the "politically correct"

Scientific articles are not the right place for the "politically correct"

The journal Nature, in an editorial discussing the Y chromosome and cancer, adds an explanation of what is meant by "men". The battle for rights is sacrosanct, but the language must be adapted to the context in which it is used

I was reading a very interesting editorial, which introduces two articles published in Nature, which point to a precise role of the Y chromosome in making men more susceptible to more serious consequences from certain types of cancer, when I came across the following text: “This article uses 'men' to describe people with a Y chromosome, while acknowledging that not all people who identify as men have a Y chromosome, and not all people who have a Y chromosome identify as men.” This very evident intrusion of the "politically correct" into a purely scientific text had the immediate effect of diverting my attention from the problem I was pondering, due to an unusual and annoying feeling of ideological intrusion into a scientific discussionwhich was followed by a brief reflection, which I would like to share with readers here.

One premise is important: the academy and the scientific community are home to a widespread habit of discrimination, with very evident negative consequences in terms of opportunities and treatment first of all for women (where "first of all" refers to their simple numerical weight), and gradually to climb for other categories, or rather for any category that deviates from the model of western scientist, male, heterosexual, bibliometrically productive and part of a clearly identifiable global circuit that belongs to some prestigious institutions. The reasons and mechanisms underlying this state of affairs are complex and often intertwined, so I don't feel like dealing with them here, as I need a much broader forum; moreover, the varied “solutions” proposed to mitigate the problem seem to me rather sterile in terms of results and often ideological rather than pragmatic and evidence-based.

I made this permission, so as not to be accused myself of sharing or not seeing the terrible inequality on which academic and scientific power is founded; yet, meeting for the first time a phrase like the one quoted in the editorial of Nature, I can't help but express my disappointment for what seems to me a linguistic and conceptual perversion, which seems to have the sole purpose of cleansing consciences instead of changing things. Is it possible that precisely in a text which talks about the association between certain cancer risks and the Y chromosome, it is necessary to specify what is meant by men, when it is clear, from the context, that we are referring to carriers of a certain sex chromosome? Is it possible that we must therefore indicate that with "men" we are referring to sex, and not to gender (that is, to the sex with which we identify), even when we are looking at and discussing exactly the genetic determinant of sex? And from now on what do we want to do: use the periphrasis “carriers of Y chromosome”, instead of “males” or “men”, even in texts where it is obvious what the latter terms refer to?

Of course, the choice of language is always possible. But language, as those who excel in its use well know, must be adapted to the context in which it is used; and in the same way that it is correct to point out that the gender with which one identifies can be different from that usually linked to the biological sex in a discussion dedicated to this subject, it seems frankly annoyingly redundant to mention this in a context in which one discusses the 'other, just as it would be annoying in a conference dedicated to the subject to constantly remember that sex is genetically determined. Est modus in rebus: to avoid ridiculous outcomes and counterproductive effects in conducting the sacrosanct battle aimed at leveling the inequities linked to the identification of groups that differ from the assumed standard, it is time to stop resorting to useless periphrases, in the fear that hitherto harmless terms have become dangerous tools of cultural oppression. The academy and the scientific community need to be reformed, even quite radically; but let's start talking about fairness in economic treatment, professional barriers and the spread of sexism in certain circles, instead of specifying what we mean by "men" in an article that talks about the Y chromosome and cancer.



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